Sir Bob Jones

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Bob Jones: High standards count in speech and in life

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Why failures should be role models is certainly puzzling. Photo / Thinkstock
Why failures should be role models is certainly puzzling. Photo / Thinkstock

Recently I listened to the splendid National Radio morning host, Kathryn Ryan. Her guest, the headmaster of a low-decile Auckland school, was outlining his success in promoting Maori and Island lads' education enthusiasm.

That's excellent, but what chance have they if he's not also tidying up their speech, such as "sweet as", and also, the mindless imitation of America's greatest losers, ghetto black men and their baseball hats beneath hoods, wearing dark glasses night and day, trousers around their ankles, and so forth. Why failures should be role models is certainly puzzling.

Hopefully the head is indeed talking to them about these things, but somehow I doubt it, given his own assault on the English language. Everything - or as he preferred, "evrythink" - was goin', tryin' and such-like; extraordinary coming from a headmaster.

These things count if his chaps are to make a success of their lives. For example, do readers not recoil when they read someone reported saying, "I'm absolutely gutted", after some mishap? It's a crassness give-away and explaining to his pupils that standards count in all things is important.

Kids probably pick up some bad speech from their sporting heroes with their inane "Yes-No" responses to questions. Many of the broadcasters set a shocking example, not just with bad speech but also tiresome cliches. Fortunately, the cringe-making "that's a big nudge" is fading from rugby broadcasts, only to be replaced by the almost as bad, "he's struck it well" or "a good strike" after a kick.

Gentlemen, you can't strike something with your boot. It's called a kick. Practise it, and while you're about it, cut out "they've come to play". And someone should strangle the next broadcaster interviewing a captain after a close game with the opening query, "A hard day at the office, Bill?"

Perhaps it's a rugby thing. I listened to Piri Weepu hilariously add "at the end of the day" to each sentence 12 times in a brief interview. That's the problem with cliches. It's terribly easy for them to unwittingly slip into one's speech and to become oblivious to uttering them. And it can be difficult breaking the habit once they're there, as we're all sometimes guilty of doing.

Talking rubbish is now voguish. Christchurch's tourist promotion manager, Tim Hunter, recently told an interviewer, "Before the earthquake we had three dynamics driving our visitor numbers," listing New Zealanders, foreigners and conferences. Why dynamics? What's wrong with plain English such as "three visitor sources"? It's a sure-fire give-away of stupidity, although it could have been worse; he might have said "key drivers".

Far and away the worst offenders of this voguish substitution of perfectly adequate words with gibberish are commercial real estate agents, although sharebrokers' "going forward" and "window" chanting gives them a run for their money. In the mid-nineties commercial agents pointlessly abandoned floor "areas" for floor "plates" when describing office building floor areas. One wrote it and immediately the rest mindlessly copied. That's now gone by the wayside and instead, the new vogue is to talk about "footprints".

Wellington's newspaper recently ran an interview with a retail leasing agent about CBD shop vacancies and reported him saying, "Retailers are seeking a bigger footprint." No they're not, you goose. They're seeking bigger shops. Perhaps this idiocy is a form of self-aggrandisement. Nevertheless, the offenders should recognise that good English is always plain English; it's that simple.

Complaining about bad English is not snobbish pedantry, as borne out by the global success of Lynne Truss's 2003 book, Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Its sub-heading, The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, summed it up. The book's enormous sales plainly reflected public annoyance on seeing "mens", "womens" and the like.

Silly feel-good nonsense is also becoming rife, as I encountered recently in a pleasant Remuera restaurant, The Maple Room, which I'm happy to recommend. It's also worth visiting to see at the bottom of their menu the message, "All our chicken and pork is free-range". Putting aside the "is", that's fine for those of us concerned about the abominable cruelty by some sadistic chicken farmers, but the spectacle of free-range pork chops has huge tourism potential. The message however, did not stop there, rather (brace yourselves), it added the words "and happy".

Exactly how happy about being eaten the restaurant's chicken and pork are, the menu doesn't say, but if perchance they're deliriously joyous, then the noise in the kitchen must be horrendous, with raucous laughter coming from bacon rashers, chicken breasts and pork chops in the fridge, all partying away. It must be a riot there amid such gaiety and the "pick me, pick me" clamour from the chops and chicken pieces to be next for cooking and consumption. Much more of this and the Trappists will have me breaking down their doors for entry.

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- NZ Herald

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